"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." Romans 1:16
Throughout Christian history in general, and Southern Baptist history in particular, the power of the gospel has been the cornerstone of our faith. The prophet of old declared God saves sinners and we have unashamedly proclaimed that truth to a the world around us. We have openly preached the exclusivity of Christ (He is the only Savior our God has given among men), salvation by grace (God's grace), and the benefits of that salvation received through faith in Christ (and not our own works).
It seems to me, however, that the modern gospel is losing its power as proclaimed by some Southern Baptists. The true gospel never loses her power, but weak substitutes fizzle like damp fuses. We have become more focused on the minutia of our faith than the Man in whom we place our faith. Instead of declaring that faith 'as a mustard seed' in Christ saves, we have demanded a robust, detailed and precise doctrinal faith before we confer upon another believer our denominational blessing of true justification. We become angry and boisterous when fellow evangelicals don't see eye to eye with us on social, political and cultural issues and begin to discount the genuineness of their faith. We act as if it is our faith, our works, and our commitment that form the basis of our salvation. Though we say with our lips salvation is by grace through the work of Christ, we sometimes broadcast with our lives that salvation is really only found in our church, our message, and our baptism.
As a result, the Southern Baptist Convention, if we are not careful, will gradually become a denomination of religious hierarchy, and over time, as happens to all 'religions,' we will find ourselves increasingly irrelevant and spiritually powerless. Recently the new policy on baptism was shown to Ray Hugget, High Priest of the Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints and a direct descendent of Joseph Smith, and asked him what he thought of it. Ray read it carefully and then proclaimed that the policy is just like his church's view on baptism. I asked him to clarify and he said, "A legitimate baptism is one performed only in our church, because we are the true church of Jesus Christ on earth, and we would not accept any other baptism."
When we begin to focus so intently on what we confess to believe as a 'denomination' and lose sight of the sufficiency of God's Word and the merits of Christ's work, we are in danger of becoming a religious denomination instead of a convention of evangelical Baptist churches with Christ as our head. When we put the instructions of denominational authorities regarding 'true doctrine' above our own understanding of Scripture, no matter how sincere those authorities may be, we are one step away from crossing the rubicon to becoming a 'top down' denomination instead of a loose knit confederation of churches who cooperate for the purpose of missions. When we question the salvation of any Southern Baptist who doesn't cross every 't' and dot every 'i' in the same manner as the 'majority' of the SBC, then we prostitute our Baptist heritage at the altar of denominational conformity. When pressure to be faithful to our denominational decrees becomes more intense than to be true to one's convictions regarding Christ's commands, then we have lost the truest sense of what it means to be empowered by the gospel.
I am a Southern Baptist. Lord willing, I will be a Southern Baptist until the day I die. But, I am a Christian first. The power of the gospel energizes me and the love of Christ constrains me. For this reason, I accept all those around me who differ from me, but I will resist toe to toe any Southern Baptist who demands conformity to their views on tertiary issues. I will enjoy their company, cooperate without hesitation in missions and evangelism, and learn from them -- but we must not, we cannot, succomb to the temptation to be directed by anyone other than Christ.
God saves His people. He will not fail. He is not impotent or purposeless. He accomplishes all His will, for the counsel of the Lord shall stand. He does whatsoever He pleases. We have the privilege of getting in on what God is doing in bringing His people to glory through His Son Christ, but the advance of His kingdom is not dependent on Southern Baptists. In fact, to the extent that we are under the illusion that our convention (or denomination if you prefer) is synonymous with His kingdom, is the extent to which we become increasingly irrelevant. If we lose sight of Him and His power and begin to focus on our convention and our 'power,' then He can raise up the very rocks to honorably do those things we have forfeited. I don't think, however, he will make it to the rocks.
He will find others who are willing to focus more on the gospel and His Kingdom than their own denomination.
In His Grace,